10 Must-have Healthy Foods for Women | Women's Health and Nutrition
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Misbah Wasi

Functional Nutrition Specialist, Scientific & Regulatory Advisor for Health Supplements

Misbah Wasi is a seasoned professional in the field of Nutrition Science and Food Regulation for over 15 years. Currently, she is lendin her expertise in the area of Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals and is an active member of the Standards Review Group (SRG) - Nutraceuticals FSSAI Ms. Wasi is a post-graduate in Food and Nutrition. Certified Lead Food Safety Management Systems Auditor (FSMS, FSSC 22000) and a certified FoSTaC traine for Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals. She is also a Subject Matter Expert for ‘Food Regulations in India’ for IFLR (International Food Laws and Regulations) course at Michigan State University.

Women's nutrition: 10 must-have healthy foods for optimal health

Women have different nutritional requirements throughout their lives, which are crucial for their overall well-being and the health of their families. As women, we often neglect our own dietary needs, but it's essential to recognize that our bodies have unique nutritional demands compared to men's. These requirements start to diverge during puberty and continue to evolve with age. Nutritional needs for women are particularly critical before and during pregnancy. Women require higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B9 due to hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation, childbearing, and menopause. Failing to meet these nutritional needs can result in various health issues including anaemia, weak bones, and osteoporosis. Therefore, women need to consume nutrient-dense foods that support bone health, hormonal balance, and overall well-being. Additionally, staying hydrated with water and limiting the intake of processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats is crucial for maintaining optimal health.

 

Some of the healthy foods for women to include in their daily diet are:

 

  1. Whole Grains

    Whole wheat atta, oatmeal, finger millet, banyard millet, brown rice, and barley are rich in fiber, which supports digestive health and helps lower cholesterol levels. Whole grains are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy and help regulate blood sugar levels. Whole grains provide maximum nutritional benefits over refined grains. A study suggested that consumption of whole grains more than 7 times/week consistently, reduced the risk of breast cancer.

 

  1. Beans and Legumes

    Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and kidney beans are excellent plant-based sources of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They're low in fat and cholesterol-free, making them heart-healthy options that can help regulate blood sugar levels, promote satiety, and support digestive health. Beans contain several vital nutrients, including folate which is essential for overall health, to make healthy red blood cells, and to prevent neural tube defects in a fetus during pregnancy. 

 

  1. Eggs

    Eggs are a nutrient-dense food packed with high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. They're rich in choline, a nutrient important for brain health and foetal development during pregnancy. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that support eye health and may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. It has been observed that nutrients and bioactive substances in eggs help to prevent the risk of chronic diseases and improve the health of women in the later stages of their life. Incorporating above listed healthy foods into a diet can lay the foundation for optimal nutrition and overall well-being. Always remember to prioritize variety, balance, and moderation, and listen to the body's hunger and fullness cues.

 

  1. Fatty Fish

    Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout are some abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health, brain function, and mood regulation. Omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent the development of certain cancers, particularly the breast, and colon, and reduce the risk of postpartum depression, hypertension, diabetes, and, age-related macular degeneration. They play a positive role in the prevention of menstrual syndrome and postmenopausal hot flashes. 

 

  1. Nuts and Seeds

    Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are nutritional powerhouses rich in heart-healthy fats, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They're convenient, portable snacks that control cravings and provide sustained energy throughout the day. They support heart health, brain function, and weight management. They also contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Phytoestrogen-rich flaxseeds have been shown to decrease menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, mood disturbances, and vaginal dryness).

 

  1. Cruciferous Vegetables

    Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts) are rich in various carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin), flavonoids, anthocyanins, coumarins, therapeutic antioxidant enzymes, terpenes, vitamins C, E, K, and folate, and minerals such as potassium, calcium, and selenium, and are a good source of fiber. They contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates which inhibit the development of cancer in several organs including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. They support detoxification processes in the body and promote hormonal balance. They help protect cells from DNA damage. Studies indicate that they help to inactivate carcinogens and show antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects. They induce cell death (apoptosis) and inhibit tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) and tumor cell migration (needed for metastasis).

 

  1. Quinoa

    It is a gluten-free pseudocereal bursting with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals for women. It contains all nine essential amino acids, (a complete protein source) and consists of phytoestrogens which contribute to hormonal balance, making it beneficial for women dealing with issues like irregular menstrual cycles or symptoms of menopause. Quinoa is versatile and can be enjoyed in salads, soups, and stir-fries, or can be used as a nutritious substitute for rice/ pasta.

 

  1. Berries

    With their sweet taste, unique aroma, and high phenolic contents, berries are important sources contributing to the improvement of diet quality. These include blueberries, strawberries, black and red raspberries, cranberries, black currants, and blackberries. Studies associate regular, moderate intake of berries with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, death, and type-2 diabetes, and with improved weight maintenance and neuroprotection in women. These colorful fruits help to combat oxidative stress, support immune function, and promote healthy aging. Berries are low in calories and can satisfy sweet cravings without spiking blood sugar levels. They can be consumed fresh or dried and can also be utilized in different forms of food products.

 

  1. Curd

    It is a nutritious dairy option that is rich in protein, calcium, probiotics, and B vitamins. It is an excellent source of essential amino acids of high biological quality and contains a higher protein content than milk. Studies indicate that women with frequent consumption (≥2 servings/week) show the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It has been observed that curd consumers have significantly reduced the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies for riboflavin, vitamin B-12, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

 

  1. Avocado

    It is a nutrient-dense fruit loaded with healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It's an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart diseases. The fatty acid and fat-soluble carotenoid (especially lutein and zeaxanthin) composition of avocados make them an ideal food for pregnant mothers to derive the necessary nutrients for the proper brain, eye, and immune development of their offspring. They contain various critical nutrients that are recommended for fetal and infant health development. 

 

The dietary requirement for women differs at every stage.

 

1: Daily, healthy eating tips for menstruating women

• Eat foods rich in iron and zinc–leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, nuts, and seeds
• Increase calcium intake–dairy products, milk, curd/yogurt
• Take vitamin supplements if required
• Add omega-3 fatty acids to diet such as fish, Cod to relieve menstrual cramps
• Cut down the excess intake of salt to avoid bloating, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine

       

      2: Healthy eating for pregnant and breastfeeding women

      • Eat foods–rich in iron, calcium, vitamins, minerals, etc.
      • Consume a lot of omega-3 fatty acids–fish.
      • Eat high-quality proteins–from fish, poultry foods
      • Eat smaller and more frequent meals
      • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. 

         

        3: Diet tips to ease the menopausal symptoms-

        • Boost calcium intake (along with vitamin D and magnesium) to support bone health and prevent osteoporosis.
        • Limit wine, sugar, white flour products, and coffee
        • Eat more Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, it can help boost hormone production and give skin a healthy glow.
        • Balance protein and carbs. Foods rich in protein include meat, pulses, paneer, seafood, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds.
        • Limit refined carbohydrates and added sugars. The drop in estrogen with menopause can lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity which causes a lower tolerance to carbohydrates.
        • Try Flaxseeds (rich in lignans) which help to stabilize hormone levels and manage hot flashes. Try sprinkling it on soups, salads, or main dishes.
        • Consume more soy food products which are high in phytoestrogens. Studies suggest that soy food sources such as soy milk, and tofu to manage menopausal symptoms.

           

          Optimal health is a holistic journey, and the foundation begins with mindful and nourishing food choices. By incorporating these 10 must-have healthy foods into your daily diet, you can pave the way to enhanced well-being, increased energy levels, and a resilient body ready to embrace life's challenges.

           

          References -

           

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